Disappearing Under Paperwork

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Newsletters. The very word strikes alarm into the heart of a reindeer herder. Twice a year, our very outdoorsy, active job becomes a little more office bound for a few days, as we frantically scrabble to prepare, write, and compile about 3000 words into a comprehensible piece of A3, and then mail it out to our supporters of the herd, each of whom ‘adopts’ one of our reindeer. Or more than one, and in the case of one particular adopter (you know who you are…) – six!

We send out the newsletter twice a year, in late June and late October. The June one isn’t usually as fraught as the October one, which coincides with a hectic time of year for us: calf halter training, reindeer sleigh training, the run up to the Christmas tour and the October half term. Over time they have evolved from a single, black and white sheet to a glossy, double-sided and full colour affair. We always include info about each adopter’s particular reindeer in June, but over the years as the support scheme grew, this became too much for us to cope with in October and now we send a photo of the herd instead, with a little info on the back.

Newsletters

Some of our more recent newsletters

There’s no fancy computerised system for us though, we instead trawl through the filed adoption slips for each year of adopters, bit by bit double-checking the info on the form and the printed label is correct, and combining a newsletter with the correct photo or info slip – and then lots of envelope stuffing ensues! When I started working here, years ago, newsletter time seemed to go on for weeks, but now it is a matter of days, usually driven by panic by the amount of other work building up that is on hold. Newsletters come first for a few days! There always seems to be one envelope that floats around the office for a few extra days, with a scribbled post-it on it saying something like ‘can’t find form in folders!’, or ‘why isn’t this on the database!!!!’.

Newsletters

A clear kitchen table and massive amounts of water are needed as preparation

Newsletters

Even Tiree is roped in to help spot the right address labels

Newsletters

All of these folders are full of adoption forms… and all of them must be manually checked

While we do our best to save paper and only send one newsletter to each person who adopts more than one reindeer, there’s no way for adoptions to be easily linked together, so it relies purely on the memory of person working their way through the filed forms, one by one. Many of us recognise most adopters’ names straight away, and the office talk will involve lots of ‘hang on, I think these guys adopt someone else too. Where’s their other form?!’. Often punctuated with ‘bugger, I forgot they adopted so-and-so too. It’s been posted already…’. So if you receive two separate newsletters in the post, bear with us, one day we’ll get it right! (and on that note – if you spot anything wrong with your address, do drop us an email so we can correct it!)

And then, finally, comes the mission of franking all 1000 plus envelopes. A mind numbing job, but quite soothing as the machine beeps away – known to us as ‘the franking song’. The beeping ditty is stuck in the head of the unfortunate herder tasked with this job for the rest of the day.

Newsletters

The hardest week of the year for the franking machine

Newsletters

At last – envelopes stuffed, labelled, checked, franked, boxed and ready to wing their way across the country!

So hopefully by now (or within the next few days at least), you adopters out there should have your shiny new Oct 2015 newsletter in your hands. And if don’t adopt a reindeer, and want to get your paws on one of these hallowed pieces of literature (ha!), then there’s only one way to do so. Now, where’s that adoption form got to???

Hen

Calf Training 101

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October is a fun time of year as it’s when we train this year’s calves as well as harness training our young Christmas reindeer to pull Santa’s sleigh. Halter training and handling the calves makes them much tamer and easier to handle for the rest of their lives so even if they don’t end up pulling Santa’s sleigh at least we can catch them if we ever need to when they are out in the hills…well, most of the time anyway, some are always wild…it’s in the genetics!

Luckily reindeer are very food orientated, aren’t we all! So stage one is to get their heads in a bucket full of tasty lichen, chocolate for reindeer!

Calf training

Lotti luring the calf into the bucket of delights!

Once the head is ‘inserted’ a sneaky manoeuvre gets the halter on with them barely noticing what’s happened!

Calf training

Mel putting on the calf’s halter while Lotti holds the bucket

Once the wee ones are caught we get ourselves a couple of steady old boys to come alongside and ‘teach’ the calves…this day it was Puddock and Parfa’s turn to be the companions. We have found that they are better behaved without their mums, like some children! So mum’s go back up the hill once they have accompanied the calves down to the ‘training centre’ and the big boys take over.

Calf training

All haltered up, we are ready for a wee walk around Glenmore to see the new sights and sounds…….

Calf training

To try and make the walks a ‘fun’ thing we go off into the woods in search of yummy snacks!

Calf training

Enjoying some freshly picked tree lichen from Lotti.

Calf training

The boys enjoy the smorgasbord walks just as much as the calves! Puddock nibbling lichen from the trees.

Calf training

Fresh birch leaves are another favourite, Grunter snacking on leaves while Lotti feeds the wee calf.

Calf training

Moose ready to grab a big mouthful of leaves, it’s interesting to watch the technique. They grab the twig some way toward to base and then pull it throw their teeth and hard pad to strip off all the leaves but leave the twig and tip intact so they don’t actually damage it, clever!

Calf training

The training/buffet walk finishes with a wee graze of the grass.

Lastly with heads snuggly back in buckets of lichen, halters are carefully removed! After 2 or 3 outings like this they will be pretty much halter trained. The key to winning them round is lots of tasty snacks and pockets full of lichen as you will have seen and a couple of old boys who can be a good influence!

Mel

Introducing the bulls

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Since some of our female reindeer finally decided to join us at the hill enclosure, the rut has got underway. We use different sections of our 1,200 acre hill enclosure to help us manage the bulls during the rut, as it would be complete chaos if we just put them all in together and left them to get on with it! By splitting each bull with a small group of females, everything is a bit more relaxed and the big lads feel less at risk of losing their girls. We do, however, let some of the younger, smaller bulls “have a go” by letting them remain in with a big bull, and if they manage to sneak a female away and have their wicked way, then good for them. Of course, most of the time, they don’t stand a chance!

Gandi

Swedish Gandi with his distinctive white nose

This year we have quite a few bulls who may be getting a chance to spread their genetics in the herd. As usual, most of these are of Swedish descent. Whilst we keep a record of the parentage of each calf born here, it is a lot easier to prevent inbreeding and promote genetic diversity if we use bulls that we know aren’t related to anyone else. Bovril, Gandi, Boxer, Nutti, Pera and Bandy all started their lives in Sweden, before joining our herd in 2011. After we have bred from them for a few years, they will join our Christmas team and live out the rest of their life as a part of the Cairngorm herd.

Bovril

Big handsome Bovril

Bovril and Gandi are perhaps the biggest and most impressive of the boys this year, especially Bovril as he is black in colour, and whilst he’s actually very sweet natured, when he’s strutting his stuff and chasing away the other males he can look extremely intimidating! Pera is another black reindeer, but is slightly smaller than Bovril. He is easily recognised due to having rather bizarre antlers – the top points point forwards rather than backwards. As antler shape is determined genetically, it will be interesting to see what the antlers of Pera’s offspring turn out like!

Pera

Pera with his bizarre antlers

Boxer is another dark coloured reindeer, but Nutti is much lighter and has a white nose, as does Gandi. Bandy is the one right in the middle – what we would call a “normal” colour. He’s quite a slight build and a bit less scary than the other big bulls, but is perfectly capable of holding a group of females.

BoxNutBand

A range of different colours: dark coloured Boxer, normal coloured Bandy and white-nosed Nutti

Of our Scottish born bulls, three-year-old Balmoral is the biggest and most impressive. He comes from a great family line – Fly is his mum – and his family has a good record for producing big strong calves with large antlers, so hopefully any offspring he fathers will inherit these traits. A few of the younger bulls may also get a look in – notably Cambozola, Mo and Atlantic are convinced that they are handsome enough to win over any female… its just a case of whether they can steal them away from the big lads or not!

Balmoral

Three-year-old Balmoral

CamMoAtl

The Young Hopefuls: Cambozola, Mo and Atlantic

Watching the bulls performing is always entertaining – unlike the red deer stags who roar their challenge at other males, reindeer bulls merely grunt. They also lick their lips, pee on their hind legs and generally swagger around thinking they’re the bees knees. Personally, they remind me of drunken lads out on the town, but they do seem to have some degree of success at impressing the cows. Quite how successful will only be proven next year in May!

Andi

Awesome autumn

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The reindeer look superb in Autumn, with their fully grown antlers and thick winter coats just come through. Here’s some photos to give you an idea of how good they’re looking…

Cambozola

Young bull Cambozola, having freshly stripped the velvet from his antlers

Hudson

Yearling bull Hudson, with Mo in the background. Often a few ‘streamers’ of velvet cling on after most has been stripped.

Lairig

One of the biggest and oldest female calves of the year

Tinto

A wee male calf with unusual facial markings. It doesn’t take long for the calves to learn that we provide tasty food for them!

Wapiti

Wapiti grows one of the biggest sets of antlers among the females

Brie

Little Brie looking amused!

Caddis

Beautiful Caddis is easily recognisable with her patchy white face

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Grunter and Max enjoying a drink at the loch at our Balcorrach Hill farm

The challenge of the ‘adopt photo’

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Each year, September and October become stressful months for me. Although the crazily busy summer season has passed and some sense of normality is returning to the slightly frazzled reindeer herders (shortly to be removed by the onset of the Christmas season, however), autumn is the season of ‘adopt photos’. This is my responsibility (although frequently assisted by Alex and all the other herders that I’ve begged…), so I spend my time armed with a camera and a sense of hopefulness that maybe, just maybe, the sun might come out…

Gnu

Sometimes it all goes right! Gnu featuring in an example of a good adopt photo in 2010

We have been running our Support Scheme for over 25 years now and right from the beginning adopters of our reindeer have received a certificate annually, along with a recent photo of ‘their’ reindeer. Added to the issue of there being about 150 reindeer in the herd, is the problem that they free-range on the mountains a lot of the time and there is never any guarantee that they’ll be in the right place when I need to get that elusive photo. Having been here for years now, I know the details of our adoption database well, and I frequently have a constant niggling worry that I know so-and-so’s adoption renewal form of a particular reindeer is going to crash onto our mat any day, and I STILL haven’t got ‘the photo’…

Grunter

So many potential photos end up like this – Grunter spoiling my photo!

Reindeer don’t always lend themselves to being easy photo subjects. They spend a large part of the summer being incredibly scruffy as they moult their winter coat, and then part of the winter (ranging from one to several months) with no antlers, having cast their old set. Nobody really wants a photo of a bald reindeer (except, perhaps, adopters of Malawi, who actually is bald, having never grown an antler in her life). I need the weather to co-operate too as cameras and rain don’t mix well, as everyone knows, and this is often one of my main obstacles.

Reindeer look at their absolute best in September and October, with full grown antlers and fresh, thick winter coats. So, this is the season that I aim to get a complete set of photos of every single reindeer, to use for the majority of the next year. I then try and get ‘back-up’ photos in Jan/Feb, to use in the late summer to avoid any possible overlap of photos for the adopters whose renewals are due around that time. Older reindeer don’t change much in appearance from year to year (other than the moulting/antler issue), but the young ones do as they grow, so they usually need more regular photos too.

Duke

Ducks are frequent photo-bombers in the hill enclosure – Duke in 2014

The natural stance of a relaxed reindeer doesn’t help either, heads down, ears out sideways, somewhat glazed look. If you receive a photo of your reindeer with its head up, ears pricked and an alert look, bear in mind that at the moment I pressed the shutter I probably had another herder dancing around nearby like a nutcase, barking like a dog, or throwing a feed bag in the air! In moments of desperation I have been known to throw the empty feedbag at the reindeer… Unfortunately (for me anyway), the tamest and friendliest reindeer are the most adopted ones, and are always the most difficult to generate a response from. Naming no names. Well, Puddock. Paintpot. Beastie… It’s a well-known and frustrating rule of mine that I always take the nicest photos of shy, un-adopted reindeer.

Horse

Horse refuses to look interested, even at a flying feed bag

However, each photo is filed in our photo archive, so whether they have been used on a certificate or not, they still provide a visual record of a reindeer’s life through its various stages. But regardless, one of the highlights of my year (maybe I should try getting out more) is that glorious moment when I press ‘confirm’ on the online order in the autumn, and sit back knowing that in a few days 1000+ shiny photos will arrive and can be filed, awaiting the flood of adoptions over the coming months. Huge sigh of relief!

Hen